As an historian, I do not understand how anyone can teach U.S. history at the exclusion of women, blacks, homosexuals, or any other subgroup. I do have a problem with arbitrarily inserting them into an historical narrative where they played no particular role. The U.S. Civil War affected every aspect of American society. No one escaped unscathed.
The role of women as nurses, spies, and enlisted “men” during the war has come to the forefront with the movement to emphasize the roles of women during the war, and rightfully so. I have often contended that great men had exceptionally strong mothers. The ones who come to mind are Franklin Roosevelt, Robert E. Lee, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln. Nameless hundreds of them worked in the hospitals tending to the wounded, and the sick throughout the conflict.
Dorothea Dix organized the first female nurse corps to work in the Washington, D.C. hospitals. Following first Manassas, Sally L. Tompkins established and ran the privately fundedRobertson Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. When the Confederate military eventually took over all of the independent hospital and placed male officers in charge of them, she went to President Jefferson Davis to plead her case. He commissioned her as a captain, renamed the hospital Tompkins Hospital and returned her to the post as the only female officer in the Confederate army. Dr. Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor for serving as the only female surgeon in the Union Army during the war.
Women also served in the military. Kady Brownell joined the 1st Rhode Island with her husband and became the color bearer. She saw action at First Manassas, on the Peninsula and at New Bern, where her husband fell with a fractured thigh. She spent eighteen months in the hospital helping him recuperate and received a discharge to return home with him. British born Albert D. J. Cashier (Jenny Hodgers), served with the 95th Illinois throughout the Western Theater, allegedly without being discovered until the turn of the century when she broke her thigh while working on an automobile.
Born in Spain to a Spanish father and a mother from Pennsylania, Admiral David Farragut served with distinction throughout the war and is best remembered for “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.” Federico and Aldofo Cavada, both Cubans, were raised in Philadelphia by their American mother after their father died. Federico became the lieutenant colonel of the 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves) and Aldolfo served as a captain and aide-de-camp to General Andrew A. Humphreys of the II Corps. He left behind a superb diary of the events at Gettysburg. Both died during the Cuban insurrection in 1871 – Federico by firing squad and Aldofo in battle against Spanish troops. About 10,000 Cubans, Mexican Americans, and Puerto Ricans served in both armies during the war, particularly in the southwest. The colonel of the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, Diego Archuleta, rose to the rank of brigadier general. Colonel Miguel E. Pino and Lieutenant Colonel Jose Maria Valdez commanded the 2nd New Mexico Volunteer Infantry. Jose G. Gallegos commanded the 3rd New Mexico Volunteers. The infamous Garibaldi Guard (39th New York) had a large Spanish contingent and was, perhaps, the most multinational regiment the war.
What would a Civil War movie or a John Wayne cavalry movie be without the proverbial Irish non-commissioned officer swaggering about and calling his superior officer “darling”? The Irish and German participation in the war has been thoroughly documented. The Army of the Potomac at Antietam boasted about 40% of its ranks either being first generation Americans or foreign born – predominantly Irish or German. The army was the melting pot – always has been and always will be.
Swedish nobleman and Medal of Honor recipient, Colonel Ernst Von Vegesack commanded the predominantly German 20th New York (United Turner’s) at Antietam. When admonished to lower the regimental colors because they attracted fire, he replied, he would not, “They are our glory.”
Hungarian Jew Leopold Karpelas, who emigrated to this country in in 1838 (age 11) with his older brother to Galveston, Texas, became a successful merchant. When the war broke out, he moved to Massachusetts and on August 15, 1862 enlisted in Company A, 47th Massachusetts Volunteers. Before mustering out on July 9, 1863, he had attained the rank of Color Corporal and had served in North Carolina. He enlisted in Company E, 57th Massachusetts on March 10, 1864 and was promoted to Color Sergeant on April 14, 1864. He received the Medal of Honor for his bravery on May 6, 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness, where at the risk of his own life, he rallied 34 men around the colors with yards of the Confederate lines. Severely wounded on 24, 1864 at North Anna, Virginia, he received a medical discharge on October 10, 1864.
Joseph L. Pierce enlisted in Company F, 14th Connecticut and served with the regiment throughout the war. Born in China and sold to a an American sea captain, he was raised in Connecticut. Records show that he participated in the attack on the Bliss barn on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. He also was allowed to wear the traditional long queue.